I’ll start by telling you that the idea started with Tom Morello and the Boy Scouts of America. Rage Against the Machine was on the March 2000 cover of SPIN, doing the publicity for The Battle of Los Angeles. There were portrait shots scattered through the article looking like movie stills from the 70s: no makeup, lank hair, large pores, in short, people who looked like real living people. I kept returning to Tom Morello’s portrait in a Class A shirt with the Boy Scouts of America name over one of the pockets, right beneath a black patch with a red star.
I wanted a shirt just like it. If you must, call my interest proof that advertising works or some sign that I was a poser because I was responding to the fashion, not the music. I have a different take. As a girl who grew up in the Mormon faith, I learned early & often about the rituals I couldn’t do or the contributions I couldn’t make to my church based on my gender. Even though I was a Girl Scout, that wasn’t as important or noteworthy as the guys who advanced through Boy Scouts and competed like it was a merit badge triathlon.
It wasn’t just Tom Morello’s shirt I wanted. It was putting my stamp on a symbol that marked out where I wasn’t wanted.
I bought a large, long-sleeved beige shirt from Wal-Mart or Target. One main difference is that it didn’t have the shoulder straps, but the shirt looked similar enough to a Class A at first glance that detail could be overlooked. And I started looking for patches. I originally went to the local Girl Scout store in my hometown, but as I looked through drawer after drawer of embroidered numbers and logos, something became clear. I didn’t just want to buy a bunch of patches that didn’t mean anything to me, that just looked pretty. I wanted them to appeal to me or have some association with them.
This would take some searching.
I started by going to the antique stores in town. I went to tourist shops with specific-themed patches. I went to flea markets, junk shops, upcycle boutiques. Yes, I even went to craft stores to see if there was anything I liked to could add to the collage. The shirt stayed in the back of my closet, occasionally getting pulled out & having the newest find pinned to it before getting put back.
Eventually, I created this:
The shirt isn’t complete; there’s plenty of space on the sleeves and the back. My friend Justin tells me that more of a biker thing, but I want to fill it all. I even put my Marching Band letter on there, which teenage me who originally had the idea would have found completely embarrassing. But, as I’ve put the shirt together over the years and keep an eye out for anything interesting, I can’t actually bring myself to use the Girl Scout patches I earned.
That’s right: I already had a collection of patches readily available that I haven’t used. Except for one:
This +1 patch is the only thing I’ve taken off of the sash that hangs out in the back of the closet with the patch shirt. And, per my usual over-thinking, I’ve tried to figure out why. I can tell you that just removing the one patch from my faded green sash made me incredibly anxious. My immediate instinct was that I was undoing my mother’s work. Literally. She was the one who sewed each one on and to cut her stitches apart was upsetting in ways I did not expect. To go a little further, she was also the one who motivated me to complete the requirements to earn the patches and I can honestly say that I really don’t remember what the names of most of them are or which skills they represent. They don’t mean anything to me now and to transfer them would simply make them the meaningless pretties I wanted to avoid.
The patch shirt isn’t complete yet. But it also isn’t the middle finger to conformity that I had originally imagined it to be. Instead, it’s my craft project, my sewing practice and my personal timeline. And one of my favorite pieces of clothing.